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THINKING OUTSIDE THE STEEL BOX: How the Tent Industry Is Currently Solving 

<strong>THINKING OUTSIDE THE STEEL BOX: How the Tent Industry Is Currently Solving </strong>

On-Site Construction Staging & Storage  

Doug Hardin, P.E., Tamarack Grove Engineering
Brian J. Sielaff, P.E., P.Eng, Tamarack Grove Engineering
Cody Jones, Bledsoe Tents

The modern-day engineered fabric structure, known more universally as a tent, has applications far beyond weddings, social events, and as temporary expansion space. The versatile structures have come into their own in a whole new way — appearing on the scene at large construction sites of major national grocery and retail chains including Target, Whole Foods, and many others. These megastores, who often complete renovations during off-hours, have realized the benefits of using tents for staging, materials storage, organization, equipment protection, safety and security, and providing impromptu meeting space for construction crews sheltered from the elements. Environmental benefits are making an even stronger case for opting to use tents rather than the standard steel storage container both for new builds and major renovation projects. 


The AEC industry constantly seeks better ways to get a job done — if a project or process isn’t evolving, it’s not growing into a better system. Innovation should always result in some combination of saving money and time, using resources wisely, improving work process and safety, and lessening impact to the environment. In the tent versus steel storage container debate every one of these boxes is checked and there isn’t much to recommend a container on construction sites once all the benefits of using a tent are considered. 

Tamarack Grove Engineering (TGE), a structural engineering firm located in Boise, Idaho has been recommending tents over shipping containers for many years with great response from clients. TGE is integrally involved in the process, submitting all permits and calculations for the tent install based upon local codes and ordinances making the process seamless. “Through education, we’ve been able to tout the benefits of tents to local jurisdictional authorities while helping many clients minimize steel storage containers on their job sites. Tents speed up the overall construction start-up process and the take-down process at close of construction.  And, the ultimate benefit is that this helps the store open sooner,” said TGE’s Doug Hardin, P.E. 



Many retail clients undergoing a remodel or building an entirely new location often restrict construction activities to nighttime when stores are closed, allowing stores to remain open while generating revenue. Steel storage containers are often delivered onsite dirty and with failing locks and hinges making them difficult to safely access and navigate especially at night with minimal lighting available. “We found that by using the tent in lieu of shipping containers we were able to save a huge amount of time and money on our projects. We can locate and access building materials quickly and quietly in the middle of the night during a remodel. When using shipping containers it often takes a long time to locate the items needed and they always seem to be in the back of the container requiring us to unload all the product in order to access them,” said contractor Randy Whitacre, Project Executive, W.L.  Butler. When using a tent, looks and function meld, providing a much more attractive appearance on active job sites in addition to these benefits:

– Discourages graffiti

– Available in a variety of colors to match location or business

– Business appears to be open and operational not deterring shoppers


Building the ideal job site is facilitated when using a tent. Site preparation is easy — once you address any landscaping or light pole issues and check for utilities, you’re good to go! However, if you’re using shipping containers, the coordination between owner, owner’s rep, shipping container company, delivery company, and contractor is extensive and can take months upfront to schedule. Such a lengthy and drawn-out process also increases the likelihood for scheduling mistakes, coordination snafus, and delays. 

With a tent there is a one-time delivery of one tent which takes a maximum of three days to assemble as opposed to approximately 33 different delivery trucks dropping off 33 individual containers over a long period of time. The delivery of so many containers also adds exponentially to fuel and traffic pollution and the impact on roads of heavy machinery delivering the containers can be significant. Consequently, the resulting environmental impact of one truck delivering one tent versus the multitudes of containers is enormous. Additionally, containers can’t be stacked, so they take up a great deal of valuable space on a working jobsite — on an average remodel there may be (40) 8’ x 40’ containers taking up to 12,800 SF of area as opposed to one 50’x150’ tent occupying a mere 7,500 SF. 


The cost of tents compared to shipping containers is another clear example of the benefits.  Tents are very easy on the budget, saving between 20% – 25% over the use of steel containers. “When comparing the cost of a tent to containers the math is easy if you consider all the benefits during the project and perhaps the best part is that it goes up in a day and can be taken down in a day, while taking up a lot less space,” said Whitacre.


When big box retailers are contemplating their next renovation, expansion, or new location, the additional benefits of using a tent rather than shipping containers are compelling from a cost, time, coordination, and environmental impact perspective. “I am a BIG fan of a tent vs containers because I find a tent to be so much easier to work with and much more versatile. With a tent I can set up pallet racking in many different configurations to meet the needs of the job. I can see things better for logging parts locations and it’s easier to search for missing parts instead of opening up all of the containers and climbing over pallets or removing multiple pallets to find what you need,” said Thomas Cox, Taylor Bros. Construction Company Inc. 

Additional benefits of tents include:

– Materials can be off-loaded as they arrive, easing the sorting and storage process

– Enhanced safety and security

– Organization of all merchandise and building materials allows inventory to be seen and easily located

– No need to open and unload containers piecemeal

– Faster, easier, and cheaper shipping to site

– Tent set up is quick

– Weather resistant, keeping materials safe and secure

– Easy navigation of staging area and ample daylight

– Lengths on the 50’ wide tents can be customized for each specific project 

There are relatively few downsides to replacing standard cargo shipping containers with a tent on your next construction project. Site geography can occasionally be an issue for either option, however when using a tent most of these issues can be resolved quickly and efficiently by consulting with a knowledgeable engineer. “Conveying to the local jurisdictional authority that these tents are not ‘event tents’, but rather  ‘temporary storage tents’ changes the definition and use of the tent from a permitting standpoint with the city building official and fire marshall. Structural engineering calculations can be shown to comply with the local code requirements for temporary hold-downs pertaining to uplift, overturning, and connections into the existing asphalt,”  said TGE’s Brian J. Sielaff, P.E., P.Eng. If a cargo container can be delivered and installed, a tent can be erected easier and with less coordination. 

To find out more about using a tent on your next big-box or retail project, contact Tamarack Grove Engineering’s Doug Hardin at doug.hardin@tamarackgrove.com or Bledsoe Tent’s Cody Jones at cjones@thebledsoegroup.net.


Doug Hardin, P.E., serves as Director of Engineering at TGE. He specializes in building design and analysis of both gravity and lateral load resisting systems and has worked with many different clients and types of projects as a project manager working with heavy timber, masonry, steel, light gauge steel, SIPS, IFC, and more.

Brian J. Sielaff, P.E., P.Eng., specializes in building design, design development, investigative and forensic engineering, and project management. As CEO at TGE, he oversees all work, production, and client relationships. Brian serves as Chairman of the Building Systems Council, NAHB. 

Cody Jones is a Project Manager with Bledsoe Tents. He has been in the tenting industry for over 15+ years helping clients find solutions to their construction challenges. Cody recognizes that each project is unique and works to find the optimum fix for each situation. He relies on his depth of experience in the construction industry and his managerial acumen, always placing an emphasis on safety and unparalleled quality, every time.


“In any industry and construction site, aesthetics and organization play a very key part in the overall experience. Tents allow the GC’s to stay organized, have a much better pallet for staging sequences, offer high-end, on-site security protection, and allow
a controlled workspace environment.”  Brian J. Sielaff, Tamarack Grove Engineering


Tents v Containers

– Set up time

– Ease of delivery

– Significant cost savings

– Inventory tracking and safe retrieval

– Healthier for the environment

– Neighborhood-friendly